Multimedia Review Paper

Cathy Gellis 2/23/95

Twenty minutes into WPA's film history on CD-ROM I was ready for more. Unfortunately, there wasn't any.

In its defense, the CD was easy to follow. History could be followed chronologically by clicking to different decades, and then by scrolling alphabetically. That's right; I learned about Truman before WWII.

But I must say my life will forever be enriched by the footage of LBJ arriving at the church for his daughter's wedding.

Perhaps I should temper my criticism. It is nice to have film footage to describe events, and naturally the selections available will be limited. That there is any footage at all from the very earliest years of the 20th Century is impressive, and of course these clips will be short and esoteric. I just can't quite understand why the footage from the 1980's was equally short and esoteric. I would suspect that there might not be accompanying sound for film from the days before the talkies, but I don't think all of the Beatles' fans were mimes. If an archaeologist dug up this CD in a millenia or two, I doubt he would realize that there had been any technological innovation within the 20th Century at all.

Not only was the choice of historical events that got included apparently random, their organization was equally inexplicable. Footage of cultural tidbits from the era were interspersed with footage of major political events. Again, the organization was suspect; events were first grouped by decade, and then each bit of footage was titled. The titles were then arranged alphabetically, not chronologically, which indicates that the producers of this CD were more interested in its footage as entertainment than as an educational tool. At least I would hope that was their objective.

So whereas a picture may be worth a thousand words, although in this case the adage does not hold true, a good text can speak a thousand pictures. Unfortunately this disk fails to realize that promise. Text is sparse and superficial, often bereft of dates. I wandered around the screen and the accompanying box searching for a key that might lead to more deeper detail but I was unable to find one.

I would not presume that this CD-ROM is indicative of the medium. There are likely quality CD-ROMs. I have a hunch, though, that what makes them better is that they use the ability to show sound and text and video in a complex manner that complements each other, not as the WPA has done which is mereley to exploit the novelty of the video.

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c. 1995 Cathy Gellis